School district reviews lockdown, safety plan

Published 1:01 am Thursday, February 22, 2018

NATCHEZ — The day after Natchez High School went on lockdown for an unfounded gun threat, district officials say they have met twice to discuss ways to improve their response. 

School leaders, emergency management officials and representatives from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Natchez Police Department held an After-Action Review meeting Tuesday evening to discuss their response to possible future school emergencies.

Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald said the meeting first reviewed every action between when staff first became aware of a possible safety breach and when the lockdown was lifted.

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For each stage of the incident — from calling the sheriff’s department to notifying parents to executing a search of the building — the safety officials and district leaders discussed possible improvements to the response.

Overall, McDonald said the school responded appropriately to the safety hazard, and local law enforcement officials agreed.

“The school did the right thing in telling us,” Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said. “I’d rather them call us and us respond appropriately then wait and endanger anybody.”

McDonald said school district’s job is not to take a “wait and see” approach to the severity of a potential safety breach.

Instead, the district’s job is to report any possible threats immediately.

Adams County Emergency Management Director Robert Bradford said every After-Action Review meeting is primarily purposed to find weak spots in responses.

“You never get to the point where you say ‘Okay, we’re done,’” Bradford said. “That’s when you get complacent. There’s always something we can work on.”

If another threat to the school occurs, Bradford said he wants the law enforcement and emergency management officials on scene to create an incident command center, from which all orders and action plans will be transmitted.

The command center will also improve communication between school and law enforcement leaders, which Bradford said is a “No. 1 concern.”

McDonald, too, said communication was a high priority.

In the past, emergency management has dictated that school administrators use a code system to alert law enforcement to any dangerous situations.

Now, however, McDonald said officials see the use of “plain talk” as a more trenchant approach to passing information.

Bradford said the meeting will also aid in the updating of emergency action plans for the school district.

“The plans we have may have been in place for years,” Bradford said. “We are going to adjust the school plan in the next 10 days.”

McDonald and Bradford said they also planned to conduct new drills to practice responding to crisis situations.

Patten said any new plan should allow for officers across all agencies, officials and school administrators to respond in the prescribed steps.

“In order for that to happen, everybody has to train the same way,” Patten said. “The meeting was helpful; it’s getting us all on the same page.” 

Outside of their coordination with law enforcement and emergency management, McDonald said the district has other improvement goals.

Emergency responders arrived the high school within two minutes of the call — at approximately 8:50 — McDonald said.

District staff posted a social media message concerning the incident at 9:22 a.m. and issued an automated call to parents approximately 10 to 15 minutes later.

“We are going to look into a quicker communication time between the school and parents,” McDonald said. “We understand that students were confused and scared and were communicating with parents.   We will discuss how to support students in communicating during crisis situations (and) about locations that will be used to unify parents and students.”

McDonald said the district is already preparing to implement what they learned during Tuesday’s meeting.

On Wednesday, McDonald said she and Superintendent Fred Butcher met with the Natchez High School administrative staff to rethink campus procedures.

McDonald said she was thankful for the law enforcement input and response in Tuesday’s lockdown, and the continuing contribution to student safety.

“At the end of the day,” she said, “all of our students and employees returned home safely and that is what is most important.”